Companies spend countless dollars on events over the course of a year, with everything from industry social events and webinars to large trade shows with expensive booths, sponsorships, hotels, travel, and incidental expenses.

With this type of outlay of financial and personnel resources, companies need to ensure that they capture and capitalize on event attendees and effectively follow up with them so they achieve a good return on their event investments.

“Too many companies see the event as the summit, the ultimate experience. But it’s not a magic bullet,” says Gail Bower, president of Bower & Co. Consulting, which helps companies with event and other marketing opportunities. “There are things you need to do before, during, and after the event.”

Before the event begins, the pre-event planning is essential, marketers agree.

Peter Gillett, CEO of Zuant Mobile, provider of a mobile lead capture application, recommends planning as much as a year ahead for the largest events, determining goals and strategies. The initial planning meetings should include an event manager, marketing, and sales.

In those meetings, companies need to first determine their objectives with the events—whether they want to find new customers, upsell current ones, maintain and strengthen relationships with current customers, or some combination of them all, Gillett says.

But many marketers agree that sales hardly ever happen at the events themselves, so company goals should be more to build awareness and to identify and then prioritize prospects and customers.

After agreeing on the objectives, the next step, Gillett says, is to start marketing the event to customers and prospects.

Bower adds that it’s important to use both email and phone calls for this initial marketing effort. If the company is sponsoring the event, it can invite whomever it wants. If the event is a larger trade show, the company might have access to free or discounted tickets that it can provide to its customers as a way to get them to attend.

“It is important that you are driving activities,” says Kristen Alexander, chief marketing officer at Certain, a provider of event automation and management software. “Who are you driving to the event? You need to think through your data strategy.”

Alexander recommends that companies examine their customer profiles, use that data to target market prospects with similar profiles, and invite them to attend the event. Prior to the event and during the event itself, find out which products interest customers and which challenges they are attempting to solve, noting that the customer might not initially have a specific product in mind, and then email the prospects with information and demonstrations on those specific products, she urges.

“Joe might be interested in product A and Samantha in product B,” Alexander explains. “Have sellers and product experts well-versed in those products contact [prospects] to accelerate interest down through the sales funnel.”

Keri Cook, senior director of demand generation at Clarabridge, says her company looks at previous year’s attendee lists as well as any pre-event information on expected attendees to identify a handful of top prospects to target. “We believe in a more targeted, rather than a firehose, approach.”

Clarabridge uses much the same strategy with its own annual users’ conference, Clarabridge Customer Connections (C3). When planning such an event, it’s important to not only follow many of the same strategies as with an industry event, but also to ensure the event is held at a compelling location. The 2019 C3 event will be in Miami. Previous years’ conferences have been held at Walt Disney World and Las Vegas.

Companies can—and should—go on social media prior to events to inform customers and prospects about their participation, sharing booth locations and previewing any company announcements or workshop sessions where company executives will be speaking. They should also use social media during the event to invite people to informal mixers, where they can talk to people one-on-one away from the noise and other distractions of the event itself, recommends Cook and Joe Salesky, CEO of CRMNEXT.

In addition, many events today have their own mobile apps—which allow exhibitors and presenters to include their own news, events, and other information using hashtags and links—to attract interested customers and prospects. Those in-event apps can be linked to a company’s pre- and post-event social media marketing efforts.


Online and physical events provide marketers with easy opportunities to capture relevant customer and prospect information. Both usually offer some type of online registration. By scanning badges at a physical event, companies can learn not only who signed up for the larger event but also who stopped by the booth or attended a presentation.

But this data can get lost between the event and sales outreach. According to Gillett, it can take as many as five days to go from collecting event data to feeding it into CRM and related systems. Though several integration programs are available, companies don’t always have the links they need.

Steve Hartert, chief marketing officer at JotForm, an online form-building company, says that with or without badge scanning technology, companies should use quick, easy-to-use forms to capture additional data from booth visitors.

The badge scanning or online registration should feed instantly into the CRM system, enabling sales reps to send an email to a booth visitor immediately upon leaving the booth, Gillett says. Similarly, all communications with those visitors should be tracked and collated into post-event reports.

At the event, marketers recommend using large booth displays to demonstrate products in action. The booth should be set up so that multiple people can see displays at a single time. Additionally, Salesky suggests rotating salespeople and top executives in the booth so that they can interact with attendees.

“Executives should invest time at the event, not just pop in and leave after speaking,” Salesky says. “They can have discussions with customers to validate their perspective [on products, the industry, etc.] and show their commitment to their customers.”

“Your sales staff should be trained to engage attendees with specific ‘are-we-a-fit’ discovery questions, which enables them to qualify prospects on the spot and spend time with more high-value targets,” adds Sarah Cascone, director of marketing at Bluecore, providers of a retail marketing platform.

Coffee is another good booth attraction, providing sales reps with one more opportunity to engage in small talk with visitors, with the idea of building a relationship, according to Salesky. “It’s a way to get the conversation going.”

Another strategy that companies often follow is to stock their booths with free pens, key chains, and other giveaways, which many feel don’t serve a good marketing purpose. In fact, much of that stuff usually wind up in landfills, so exhibitors shouldn’t waste their money, Salesky says.

Cook disagrees, however, saying that small handouts and compelling signage can draw additional people to the booth.

Using photo booths within the exhibit hall is another way to draw attention to a brand, adds Katie Kern, a partner and chief operating officer at Media Frenzy Global, a digital marketing and communications agency. She also recommends taking time before the event to ensure that booth personnel have all the technology they’ll need, and to set up early enough to ensure the technology works as planned.

Another way to make connections and effectively market the event is to speak at sessions, which not only provides additional exposure and opportunities to make connections but usually reduces the cost to attend and exhibit, says Jason Myers, senior account executive at the Content Factory, a digital public relations agency.


Some of the larger, more expensive trade shows have hundreds of exhibitors, including direct competitors. Attendees’ time is limited, so companies need to ensure that both prospects and current customers at least stop by their booths so that they can be engaged by personnel.

Meals and mixers at or near the show enable companies to engage prospects and customers in smaller, more intimate settings.

“Do something unique and newsworthy,” Bower says.

Recognizing this, B2B marketing software provider Zaius found an opportunity that allowed it to stand out from other vendors at Shoptalk, the world’s largest conference for retail and e-commerce. The 2018 event, held in Las Vegas, attracted 7,000 attendees and 500 vendors, and Zaius caught the attention of them all by having puppies at its booth. The display offered more than simply the opportunity to pet or otherwise interact with the dogs, said Eric Keating, Zaius’s vice president of marketing.

Zaius partnered with the Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a no-kill animal sanctuary. Zaius made a general donation to the Nevada SPCA, and conference attendees could adopt any of the dogs on display; Zaius even picked up the adoption fees for the dog that was mentioned the most on social media.

Adopted dogs walked off wearing Zaius bandanas, creating one more small yet memorable marketing opportunity.

“We didn’t have any deep business conversations that day,” Keating admits. “We just wanted people to become aware of our brand.”

Some viral events might cause plenty of buzz but not lead to additional customer engagement or sales. This wasn’t the case with the Zaius puppy promotion, according to Keating. Ninety-six percent of the leads generated on puppy promotion day were from the event, and the buzz around it continued throughout the rest of the show and beyond. Approximately 20 percent of the leads from the event turned into real sales conversations, and approximately 20 percent of those turned into business.


Beyond sending quick thank-you notes, it’s a good idea to follow-up with additional information targeted to attendees’ specific interests as soon as possible after the event, with priority given to the warmest leads, marketers agree.

Too many companies conduct simple post-event data dumps with attendee and exhibit visitor information, but that is ineffective, according to Kern. Instead, companies should have a plan in place to handle post-event communications, with different communications preplanned so they can be quickly personalized for post-event messaging.

Clarabridge’s Cook says her team’s goal is to communicate with anyone who visited the company’s booth within 48 hours after an event ends. The exception is when an event ends on Friday, when the outreach would be on Monday. To prioritize post-event communications, Clarabridge uses a scoring system that includes extra points for prospects or customers who visited the booth, had conversations with Clarabridge sales reps, or attended product demonstrations, for example.

Bluecore also uses a scoring system, which enables marketing to measure the impact of the event in the context of other marketing activities to focus on replicating the touchpoints that drive the most engagement.

Simultaneously, sales teams should use this information to prioritize outreach to those exhibiting the most interest, as measured through the touchpoints, Cascone says.

The closer that a customer or prospect is to the bottom of the sales funnel, the more important it is to follow up with a personalized approach, Alexander adds.

Salesky recommends scheduling webinars and online meetings not too long after the physical events to build further rapport and provide attendees with more specific, detailed information about the products and services available.

But in the end, whether the event is a virtual seminar that occurs several times a year or a large annual trade show, you should track the effectiveness of the marketing efforts so that they can be refined for the next event, experts advise.

Kern says that post-event surveys can provide invaluable information about how effective the company’s booth and presentations were and how they could be improved. But in addition to assessing the effectiveness of booth position and size, for example, experts recommend taking into account more macro factors, such as overall market and economic conditions, event location, and competing events, when making such determinations.

Companies can also use the data to re-evaluate the events in which they should participate and to determine whether to add more online events or shift the type of events attended. Clarabridge, for example, has opted to focus its efforts on its own annual user event and smaller, more targeted trade shows rather than the large industry conventions, according to Cook. So far, it’s a strategy that seems to be working.

Phillip Britt is a freelance writer based in the Chicago area. He can be reached at

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